In the finest traditions of blinkered motorsport reporting, today there are stories about there being a Grand Prix in Portugal, at the fabulous Portimão circuit in the Algarve. It is a great idea, but the one thing missing from the theory is a very large sum of money.
The F1 world tends to live in a vacuum and has failed to notice that Portugal is in a financial mess. Bankruptcies last year were up by a staggering 83% in the first half of the year and Parkalgar, the company that built Portimão, has been in trouble with its primary financiers: the Banco Comercial Português and construction company Bemposta.
Among the other creditors are the Formula One group, which is owed €4 million for GP2 races that took place there years ago. The circuit has adopted a revival plan which will include a cut in staff, but it is also having to cope with no further help from the various tourism bodies and councils that had been keeping the business afloat. There may be some government money forthcoming to get Bemposta to finish construction of a hotel and apartments at the track, but there is no guarantee that there will be any buyers as the real estate market at the moment in the region is disastrous, added to the fact that there will be fewer races held so less demand for the accommodation from racing people.
The planned technology park in on hold because of lack of interest. The local authorities have huge debts, to such an extent that they do not have cash for the most obvious tasks, such as investing in the cruise ship port which needs to be upgraded and could bring in 250,000 high-spending tourists a year at far less cost that a Grand Prix. Other events, such as the Alpari World Match Racing Tour yacht event, have been called off because lack of money. The local council wants to try to solve problems by borrowing its way out of debt, but funds from the Plano de Apoio à Economia Local (PAEL) are being used to pay old debts that date from as early as 2007. At the same time there are reports in the region of the councils having to merge hospitals because of lack of cash.
The government has introduced a Revitalizar programme that created a €250 million fund to help businesses recover from financial difficulties, but there are around 30 businesses that have qualified for funding and Portimao is just one of them and the money would inevitably go to pay debts, rather than being risked on an F1 race.
All things considered it is highly unlikely that Portugal will be able to afford to pay for a race until there is a very good reason to do so, perhaps the arrival of Antonio Felix da Costa in F1 would help, but Red Bull’s idiosyncratic handling of its youngsters can lead to an apparent rising star becoming a has-been overnight.
The suggestion that there could be a race in Portugal is thus pretty tenuous. Turkey is not going to pay and there are no signs either that France will offer the kind of money that F1 wants to take. The teams are also beginning to baulk at 20 races, saying they would prefer fewer, with some more testing.
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